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38 Climate Change Facts To Get You Thinking

Jeanne Perrine

Apr 6, 2022

climate change facts

Climate change is a huge concern worldwide, given its devastating impacts happening everywhere around the globe. From rising sea levels, floods, severe droughts, and wildfires to more severe and frequent hurricanes, cyclones, and similar other events, the effects of climate change are undeniable.

Did you know that 189 countries have signed the Paris Agreement and pledged to do everything in their power to combat climate change? Or that dengue fever could spread through much of the southeastern U.S. by 2050 due to global rising temperatures?

We have researched and compiled 38 facts about climate change to inform you of what is happening globally climate-wise.

1. The carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in our atmosphere is 416 parts per million.

This is the concentration as of July 2021. This is the highest in human history (Conservation International, 2022).

2. Analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that the average global temperatures in 2020 were 1.76 degrees F (0.98 degrees Celsius) than the 20th-century average.

This makes it the second hottest year on record. The seven warmest years in the 1880-2020 record have all occurred since 2014 (Conservation International, 2022).

3. 11% of all global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are due to deforestation.

This is comparable to the emissions from all passenger vehicles on the planet (Conservation International, 2022).

4. We are on the path to exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

In 2015, the nations behind the Paris Agreement set an ambitious target for keeping global warming below 1.5C. The latest IPCC report spells out just how difficult it will be for the world to stay under that limit unless we drastically slash emissions very soon. The report models five different future emission scenarios, from very high emissions to very low emissions, and in each scenario, global surfaces are expected to hit at least 1.5C (Wired, 2022).

5. We have a very small remaining carbon budget.

What is the logic behind climate change? The more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we emit, the higher global temperatures will rise. Between 1850 and 2019, humans released around 2,390 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One gigatonne is equivalent to one billion metric tonnes, so that's a lot of carbon dioxide. So far, these emissions have led to 1.07C of warming when compared to pre-industrial levels.

To have a 50/50 chance of staying under 1.5C of warming, we can only release an extra 500 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, including emissions from the beginning of 2020. In 2019 we emitted over 36 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, and as emissions are still yet to peak, it looks highly likely that the world will eventually sail past that carbon budget.

The same logic applies to other temperature thresholds, too. To have a 50/50 chance of keeping temperatures below two degrees of warming, we must emit fewer than 1,350 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (Wired, 2022).

6. Extreme heat events have become more frequent and severe.

You only have to think of devastating wildfires in Australia in 2019-2020 or even in California and Southern Europe to see that climate change is causing more frequent and more severe hot weather events. The extreme heat event that would have only happened on average once every ten years between 1850 and 1900 now likely occurs 2.8 times every ten years and is likely to occur 4.1 times every ten years in a world that hits 1.5C of future warming. The same is true of once-in-every-50-years events. They're now more likely to occur 4.8 times in 50 years, and in a post-1.5C world, that will be 8.6 times every 50 years.

We also have more heavy rain because of climate change. The kind of heavy one-day rain that 150 years ago would have only happened once every ten years is now happening 1.3 times every ten years. In a world warmed by 1.5C, that will go up to 1.5 times. And as frequency increases, so do severity; we can expect these extreme weather events to be hotter and wetter than those before them (Wired, 2022).

7. Humans have already caused 1.07C of warming.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global surface temperatures are now 1.07C warmer than they were between 1850 and 1900. Since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any 50-year-period over the last 2,000 years. This has been particularly pronounced in recent years, with 2016-2020 being the hottest five-year period recorded since at least 1850.

The IPCC report also clarifies that the principal driver of these temperature changes is down to human-released greenhouse gases (Wired, 2022).

8. Nature is an untapped solution.

Tropical forests effectively store carbon, providing at least a third of the mitigation action needed to prevent the worst climate change scenarios. Yet nature-based solutions receive only 3% of all climate funding (Conservation International, 2022).

9. Fighting climate change also means improving livelihoods naturally.

Natural climate solutions such as restoring degraded forests could create as many as 39 jobs per million dollars spent — that's a job-creation rate more than six times higher than the oil and gas industry (Conservation International, 2022).

10. Eleven percent of the world's population is currently vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heatwaves, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise.

That represents 800 million people (Conservation International, 2022).

11. Coastal "blue carbon" ecosystems are critical.

Just 0.7% of the world's forests are coastal mangroves, yet they store up to 10 times as much carbon per hectare as tropical forests.

12. Eight hundred thousand hectares of mangrove are lost every year.

If we continue to lose mangroves at this rate, they may disappear within the next century. This loss removes an essential buffer from extreme weather for coastal communities and releases immense amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Conservation International, 2022).

13. Saving nature is cheaper.

Most of the time, conserving ecosystems is more cost-effective than human-made interventions. In the Maldives, preserving the natural coral reef is four times cheaper than building a sea wall for coastal protection, even after ten years of maintenance costs (Conservation International, 2022).

14. 189 countries have ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement.

They agree to limit global warming and adapt to climate change by protecting nature (Conservation International, 2022).

15. Sea levels are rising faster than ever before.

Melting ice sheets and glaciers and warming oceans lead to higher sea levels. Since 1900, sea levels have risen faster than in any preceding century in at least the last 3,000 years, and this is set to continue for a very long time. Because oceans take a long time to warm, a lot of sea-level rise is already baked-in. If warming is limited to 1.5C, then over the next 2,000 years global mean sea level will rise to between two and three meters above current levels. If warming is limited to 2C, this rises to between two and six meters above current levels (Wired, 2022).

16. Arctic sea ice is rapidly diminishing.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than almost anywhere else on the planet. Between 2011 and 2020, annual Arctic sea ice reached its lowest level since at least 1850, and late summer Arctic sea ice was smaller than at any time in at least the past 1,000 years. Under all the future emissions scenarios in the IPCC report, the sea ice minimum will fall below one million square kilometers at least once before 2050 – making the area practically free of sea ice altogether. This level is about 15% of the average September sea ice observed between 1979 and 1988 (Wired, 2022).

17. Dengue fever could spread through much of the southeastern U.S. by 2050.

Dengue is the world's fastest-growing mosquito-borne virus, currently killing about 10,000 people and affecting around 100 million per year. As global temperatures are rising, Aedes aegypti mosquitos that carry the disease could thrive in previously unsuitable places and benefit from shorter incubation periods. A recent study by the scientific journal "Nature" warned that, in a warming world, dengue could spread to the U.S., higher altitudes in central Mexico, inland Australia and large coastal cities in eastern China and Japan (Wired, 2022).

18. Average wildlife populations have dropped by 60% in over 40 years.

The average size of vertebrate (mammals, fish, birds, and reptiles) populations declined by 60% between 1970 and 2014, according to the biennial Living Planet Report published by the Zoological Society of London and the WWF. 

19. We lost 302.4 billion work hours to excessive heat in 2019.

If you've ever been in humid southeast Asia on a hot August day, you'll know that working outdoors with shade is barely feasible and, without protection, simply dangerous. A report from The Lancet found that the number of work hours lost to heat increased from 199 billion in 2000 to 302.4 billion in 2019. That is equivalent to 436,969 average human lifetimes in 2019 alone (Mulhern, 2021).

20. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C.

Virtually all (> 99%) would be lost with a 2ºC increase in global temperature (United Nations, nd).

21. We have the tools we need to address climate change: the world doesn't have to come up with some magic machines to curb climate change.

The technology is available to take necessary climate action (United Nations, nd).

22. Over half of global GDP has a high or moderately high dependency on nature; therefore, investing in nature-based solutions will limit global warming AND result in about 4 trillion dollars in revenue for businesses and over 100 million new jobs each year by 2030 (UNEP, 2022).

23. The ocean absorbs 90% of the heat caused by global warming and 23% of excess carbon emissions.

The ocean blunts the impact of climate change by absorbing most of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gas emissions and even absorbing nearly a quarter of the excess carbon dioxide.

However, this relentless dissolving of heat and gas has significantly harmed the ocean, increasing ocean acidification, marine heatwaves, and the deoxygenation of waters.

Ocean acidification makes it harder for animals to reproduce and form shells; while heatwaves destroy coral reefs and force fish to migrate; and deoxygenation creates marine dead zones (McCarthy, 2020).

24. There were 99 tropical storms in 2019.

From Cyclone Idai to Hurricane Dorian, 2019 was a particularly active year for tropical storms, which caused severe harm to communities worldwide. 

Climate change increases both the intensity and frequency of tropical storms. Warmer ocean temperatures and rising sea levels fuel the growth of storms, while rising temperatures and changing climate patterns make storms more common (McCarthy, 2020).

25. Weather catastrophes caused economic losses of 329 billion U.S. dollars worldwide in 2021.

Sudden cataclysmic disasters cause devastation. Some weather and climate-related extreme events are storms, floods, heatwaves, cold waves, droughts, and forest fires. Climate-related hazards pose risks to human health and can lead to substantial economic losses (Statista, 2022).

26. The United States experienced nearly two dozen billion-dollar disasters in 2021.

At an economic loss of around 75 billion U.S. dollars, Hurricane Ida, a Category 4 storm that landed on the Louisiana coast in August, was the costliest (Statista, 2022).

27. China is the largest emitter of CO2 emissions from coal combustion worldwide.

In 2018, China produced approximately 7.5 billion metric tons of CO2. Coal consumption in China is significantly higher than in any other country worldwide, which explains the considerably high emissions released by this energy source (Statista, 2022).

28. Since the late 18th century, ocean surface acidification has increased by 30 percent.

This puts the entire food web at risk (Surfertoday, 2019).

29. The heat from human emissions is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs exploding every day across the planet (Surfertoday, 2019).

30. The world loses one million hectares of coastal ecosystems every year.

That's the equivalent of an area larger than New York City (Surfertoday, 2019).

Tackling Climate Change

31. From 2020 to 2021, annual investment in clean energy sources and technology, specifically in energy transition investment, increased by 27 percent.

In 2021, the global investment in the low-carbon energy transition totaled 755 billion U.S. dollars (Statista, 2022).

32. In 2019, the total new investment in renewable energy amounted to approximately 302 billion U.S. dollars worldwide.

This was a 2% increase from the previous year.

33. Investment is the highest for both solar and wind.

Nowadays, there are many renewable energy sources such as biomass, waste-to-energy, geothermal and marine. However, investment in solar and wind energy is by far the highest. Global investment in solar energy has soured since 2004, rising from just over 10 billion U.S. dollars to more than 140 billion U.S. dollars (Statista, 2022).

34. China is the country with the highest investment in renewable energy.

The countries with the highest investment in renewable energy are China and the United States, with investments in the former amounting to 90 billion U.S. dollars in 2019. However, this was a slight decrease from the previous year, while investment in the United States experienced a growth of 25% (Statista, 2022).

35. Global renewable energy consumption reached 32 exajoules in 2020.

Global consumption of renewable energy has increased significantly over the last two decades. Despite its rapid growth, renewable energy consumption still remains far below that of coal, natural gas, oil, and other energy sources. About half of final renewable energy consumption worldwide is derived from modern bioenergy sources; however, solar photovoltaics has dominated capacity growth in recent years (Statista, 2022).

36. The growth of renewable energy has been largely due to reduced technology costs.

Global governments must implement policies to encourage and support renewable energy sources to reach a secure, sustainable, and economically feasible energy system (Statista, 2022).

37. In 2019, the United States was the leading country in issuing green bonds at around 58 995 million U.S. dollars.

The proceeds from these bonds are used to finance environmental and climate protection measures (Statista, 2022).

38. In 2020, the total investments in carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa were 2.8 billion U.S. dollars.

While CCS investment was highly dependent on a few significant commitments that year, with the growing concerns of achieving net-zero emissions globally, CCS capacity is bound to grow (Statista, 2022).

What Can Individuals Do?

We cannot rely on the government to combat climate change for us. After all, we are all guilty of emitting greenhouse gases and driving climate change. So what can we as individuals do to make a change? There are simple actions or changes to our lifestyles that can generate big impacts and help release the pressure on our climate:

  • Take fewer flights
  • Live car-free (use public transportation, or walk), or use an electric car
  • Buy energy-efficient products, such as washing machines, when they need replacing
  • Switch from a gas heating system to an electric heat pump
  • Insulate your home

There are many other similar ways you can help decrease the amount of pollution we generate. We all know that there is no Planet B, so let us start living more sustainably to keep the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees celsius.

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Jeanne Perrine

Jeanne Perrine is a Sustainability Consultant who provides consultancy services in the strategic planning and management of sustainability programs. She holds a master’s degree in Sustainability Science. Jeanne was the first Fulbright Scholar from her home island (Rodrigues) and proudly represented the island during her time in the US. In her free time, Jeanne enjoys a good hike, listening to music, and working out.

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